Legislation relating to the regulation of abortion procedures, providers and facilities was passed by the Texas Senate on July 13 and now moves to the governor’s desk to be signed into law. Thousands of demonstrators journeyed to the Capitol, hoping to influence the outcome and witness the proceedings.
House Bill 2 amends various sections of the state Health and Safety Code and the state Occupations Code, requiring clinics that provide abortions to meet ambulatory care standards and doctors who perform abortions to obtain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
HB 2 also requires that abortion-inducing medications such as RU-486 be administered in person by a doctor and prohibits an abortion past the 20th week of pregnancy. Also under the bill, pregnancies resulting from rape or incest would not receive special consideration on medical, psychological or moral grounds.
Proponents of HB 2 argued that the legislation would improve women’s health care by raising clinic standards and prevent fetal pain they believe is felt when an abortion is performed.
Opponents argued HB 2 would abridge the constitutionally-protected right of a woman to choose, intervene in the doctor-patient relationship and impose a burden on women who do not live within a reasonable distance of a licensed facility.
Final passage in the Senate came on a 19-11 vote, matching earlier votes in which a Republican majority tabled some 20 amendments offered by Democrats during the course of a 10-hour floor debate.
HB 2 was passed by the House on July 10 on a partisan vote of 96-49 before moving to the Senate for consideration. Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, carried the bill in the House, and Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, carried the bill in the Senate.
Laubenberg and Hegar failed to move the same legislation in the 140-day regular session, which ended May 27, and in the 30-day first called session, which ended June 25.
Hegar issued a news release July 13 soon after HB 2 passed, saying, “This new law adds a critical protection for a new class of citizens, preborn children who have been proven to feel pain” and “the provisions of the bill will make abortions safer procedures, lowering the risk of harm to the pregnant mother or to any live-born children by increasing accountability and standards for abortion providers.”
Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, led Senate opposition to the abortion-restricting bills in the first and second called sessions. “The law passed last night will undoubtedly be challenged in court. It’s unconstitutional and bad for our families,” she said.
Gov. Rick Perry called the special sessions, ordering lawmakers to pass new abortion restrictions. He praised the passage of HB 2, as did Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Attorney General Greg Abbott, the state’s chief legal officer.
NEW PATHS FOR PERRY, ABBOTT
Perry on July 9 announced that he would not seek another term as the state’s chief executive in 2014, and Abbott annouced on July 14 his plan to seek the governorship.
Perry’s announcement fueled speculation of a second run for the presidency. Perry ran unsuccessfully as a presidential candidate in the 2012 election, losing to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. If Perry runs, he may have a GOP primary challenger in fellow Texan Ted Cruz, a freshman U.S. senator from Houston and a former state solicitor general under Abbott.
With Abbott’s announcement made, attention turns to Dewhurst, who as lieutenant governor is in line to be interim governor should Perry resign from office to concentrate on a presidential run.
No Democrat has announced for governor, but Sen. Wendy Davis reportedly is exploring the possibility.
GIVEBACKS TOTAL $1 BILLION
Texas Comptroller Susan Combs on July 10 reported she has returned $1 billion in unclaimed property to rightful owners since she took office in 2007. This is the largest sum of money ever returned by a Texas comptroller, she said, adding that since she took office in January 2007, she has been committed to return as much unclaimed money as possible to owners who may have forgotten about it.
While unclaimed property payments began in 1962 and about $900 million was returned in the 44 years prior to her taking office, about 1.1 million claims have been approved since 2007, totaling $1 billion over six-and-a-half years, Combs said.
Combs recently said she would not seek another term as comptroller.
Ed Sterling is Director of Member Services for the Texas Press Association, headquartered in Austin.